The Pandora Papers

The Washington Post reported Sunday that millions of private financial records shared with the newspaper showed that members of the global elite, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and other country leaders, used a secretive offshore system to hide billions of dollars from tax authorities, creditors, criminal investigators, and others. The documents detailed the Jordanian king spent more than $100 million on luxury homes in Malibu, California, and other places. Leaders of the Czech Republic, Kenya, Ecuador, and other nations hid millions of dollars’ worth of property and cash. The trove of documents, called the Pandora Papers, was far larger than the Panama Papers disclosed in an investigation five years ago (Washington Post 10/3/2021).

My comment: Has it always been this way since time began? Have we always been governed by people with only a passing interest in the ruled. What is it that sparks the lust for millions of dollars, pounds etc? There are only so many cars you can drive at the same time; only so many palaces you can enjoy and fancy holidays you can take simultaneously. The same can be said of companions of the opposite gender, if you get what I mean.

Epicurus would probably laugh at this modern grabbitariat and point out that fear of discovery, of thievery and assassination, makes these anxious, bigwig bullies in reality insecure. He would likely advise you to pity them as they await their comeuppencies.

You call this an “airport”?

We arrived in New York last Tuesday and had to change airlines to reach our final destination. I thought for a moment that we had landed in an undeveloped country. The chaos, lack of help or helpful signs, the rather surly staff, the quixotic building layouts and what seemed like a route march to the next flight – all had me wondering if, once we had clearly missed our onward flight, whether we would have to navigate our way to a local hotel for the night – yet another stressful endeavor!

As it happens the secondary flight was delayed because of a fault in the windshield apparatus in the pilot’s cabin! Saved by a window wiper! We got home that evening. But I had had a vision of Hell – it isn’t far away.

Pay for the poor

The single-most significant problem millions of American workers face on a daily basis is the simple fact that they’re not paid enough. The federal minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour, which leaves millions of full-time workers in poverty while dragging down the wages of the rest of the workforce in turn.

$7.25/hour, or just $15,000 a year for 40 hours of work a week, 52 weeks a year, leaves the overwhelming majority of these workers living below the poverty line, unable to adequately provide for themselves or their families. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, for instance, is almost twice what a person working minimum wage could afford. Even with several roommates, affording a place to live is a serious struggle for low-wage Americans.

On the tax front, income earned from labor is taxed at a significantly higher rate than income derived by wealth (called “capital gains”). This puts working people at a perpetual disadvantage against the already-wealthy.

The tax most people pay on their earnings – ordinary income tax – is taken from money earned through labor. Americans go to work, receive a paycheck, and pay income tax. Capital gains taxes, on the other hand, are the taxes paid on profits that come from the sale of assets – wealth someone already owns. Investors buy a stock or a piece of real estate and then sell it for a profit. The profit is considered a capital gain, and as long as the investor holds on to that asset for at least a year, they pay much less in taxes than they would on ordinary income of the same amount.

Make no mistake, this is a massive tax break. A billionaire earning $800 million a year in capital gains pays a lower top tax rate than someone earning $90,000 a year in ordinary income. (Patriotic Millionaires, 8 Sep 2021)

My comment: I think this should be filed under the heading of “obscene”. What has it to do with Epicurus? The very rich contribute to election expenses and in return get gentle tax treatment. Some would call this massive corruption of the system. Epicurus was not an admirer of massive corruptions of the system, and nor should we be.

Religion

Back in 2018, in reply to John Falconer, Michael Martin commented as follows on this blog:

“You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for you being in it, whether or not you believe in god.

If there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind.

If there is a benevolent god, he will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him.
(Michael Martin)

The health effects of music

Owing to the release of dopamine listening to music makes you feel good. This much is known. Studies by Levitin and others suggest the brain’s natural opioids also play a part. Their findings might help explain why music can act as an analgesic, and support its use by some hospitals to help relieve pain after surgery.

Some types of music may have greater healing potential than others. A key factor appears to be rhythm. One reason is that neurons in the brainstem seem to fire synchronously with the tempo of sounds we hear. In a review of research on the neurochemistry of music, Levitin and his colleague Mona Lisa Chanda cited research showing that slow-tempo music can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and other responses controlled by the brainstem. Such rhythm effects might help music combat stress and anxiety.

Research by Peter Sleight at Oxford indicates that slow music with a 10-second repetitive cycle calms listeners. He believes this is because it matches the length of a cycle of signals sent from the brain to the heart to regulate blood pressure. Music by Verdi, as well as the slow movements of Beethoven’s ninth symphony and the arias in Puccini’s opera Turandot are rich in such 10-second cycles. (based on an article in New Scientist, Sept 2015).

My comment: So why is it that orchestras and pianists in particular, now play pieces far to loudly and very much faster than a generation ago? I personally get exasperated with this, but it does one surefire thing- it gets the audience on its feet in frenzied enthusiasm.

Yes, the standing ovation! Some music is intended to stimulate and excite, but it is usually accompanied by other, slower, quieter passages, so that the audience is treated to a wide range of moods. The current trend is away from the gentle, musical treatment of music towards crude sensational “sturm und drang”- to its great loss.

Lying

Little white lies have a tendency to snowball. The more we lie, the more our brains seem to become desensitised to deception.

Tali Sharot at University College London and her team ran an experiment that encouraged volunteers to lie. They were shown jars of pennies, full to varying degrees, and asked to send estimates of how many there were to partners in another room. The partners were shown blurrier images of the jars, so relied on the volunteers’ estimates to guess the number of pennies, in order to win a reward for each of them.

When the volunteers were told they would get a higher personal reward if their partner’s answer were wrong – and that the more inaccurate the answer, the greater the reward would be – they started telling small lies, which escalated. A person who might have started with a lie that earned them £1 may have ended up telling fibs worth £8, for example.

Brain scans showed that the first lie was associated with a burst of activity in the amygdalae, areas involved in emotional responses. But this activity lessened as the lies progressed (Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.4426). “This highlights the danger of engaging in small acts of dishonesty,” says Sharot.

My comment: Seems to me to be obvious. However, a small white lie to flatter, for instance, might be excused.
In general, however, lying is corrosive to the soul. Most people realise that as they grow up.

Funding the IRS

It was only a matter of time before the more extreme elements of the GOP tried to undermine the bipartisan infrastructure.  And right on cue as the bipartisan working group is attempting to finalize the bill’s details, some conservative groups are now demanding that the deal not include increased funding for IRS enforcement. This demand is absolutely ridiculous – here’s why………..

Taken at face value, their claims that spending more money on IRS funding is not fiscally responsible are plainly absurd. Spending money on IRS enforcement brings in significantly more money – it’s a net positive investment. That’s why it’s being used as a pay-for, not as something that has to be paid for.

On a deeper level, being opposed to giving the IRS more money for enforcement is essentially an open endorsement of allowing millionaires and billionaires to commit tax fraud without any consequences. As a recent report from the Treasury Department revealed, wealthy Americans currently get away with an incredible amount of tax evasion every single year in the United States. In 2019 alone, $580 billion that was owed to the IRS was not paid. Over the next ten years, experts predict that this “tax gap,” or the gap between what taxes are owed and what taxes are paid, will reach over $7 trillion, or 15% of all taxes owed. That is a lot of money. And most of it is being kept by rich people.

Just the top 10% of earners account for over 61% of the total tax gap. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because the richer you are, the more complicated your finances become, and the more difficult it is for the IRS to tell if you’re skipping out on paying your fair share. While average people are required to have money withheld from every paycheck, rich investors are supposed to decide for themselves how much to send in and send a check to the IRS every year. Not surprisingly, this leads to a huge amount of abuse.

And because the IRS doesn’t have enough investigators with the necessary expertise to go after rich people with complicated finances, they audit poor people at a higher rate – not because it’s more important to go after them, but because it’s easier.

So how did this happen? We got to this point because conservatives in Congress have systemically and deliberately underfunded the IRS to the point where between 2010 and 2017, it lost 43% of its tax technicians and 44% of its revenue officers. This notion left the IRS with the same amount of enforcement officers as it had in the 1950s when our economy was one-seventh the size it is now. That is unacceptable.

The increased IRS funding is really the only piece of the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s funding package that is worthwhile, so it’s no wonder conservative groups are attacking it. But in the face of their attacks, Congress needs to stand strong on this issue. The U.S. government’s inability to stop tax evasion has been a growing problem for decades, but in its current state, the IRS is almost fully incapable of properly identifying and punishing criminal tax evaders. The system we have very clearly isn’t working – it’s beyond time to fix this problem and put a stop to criminal tax evasion by properly funding the IRS.  (The Patriotic Millionaires)

My comment:  Amen to that!

Joke

“We’re looking for a Treasurer for the Christmas fund”, said Paddy
“Didn’t you take on a new one last month ?” said Murphy.

“That’s the one we’re looking for”, Paddy replied.

(Relevance to Epicureanism? A sole diet of actual news is so depressing that ataraxia seems a thing of the distant past. We need a smile, at least)

Epicurean belief simply put

Epicureanism was never meant to be a dry academic philosophy. In fact, it is best kept away from academia, where, as usual with philosophy, long words render it dull, if not incomprehensible. Rather, it is a vital way of living which seeks to free men and women from a life of unhappiness, fear and anxiety. It is a missionary philosophy for the practical-minded with common sense. Let others complicate it if they wish, but I prefer it simple.

The following eight counsels are a basic guide to Epicurean living.
1) Don’t fear God.
2) Don’t worry about death.
3) Don’t fear pain.
4) Live simply.
5) Pursue pleasure wisely.
6) Make friends and be a good friend.
7) Be honest in your business and private life.
8) Avoid fame and political ambition.

I would add:

– Think of others;
– Be polite and considerate to everyone, regardless of race, age, class or gender;
– Try to see the other point of view;
– Meet others half way, if possible.
– Take the smooth and pleasant road, as free from stress and conflict as possible.
– Aim to be moderate in all things.
– Try to laugh and make others laugh. We don’t do it enough
– But don’t be put upon!

Housing in Britain

To The Times
The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s modest housing measures deserve modest support, but most of this discussion misses the point. Of course supply must be increased, not least to deal with the backlog. The underlying problem, though, is uncontrolled demand. Most household growth comes from immigration, not from the domestic population: in recent years, more than four-fifths of additional households in the UK have been headed by a person born overseas.

Forget the absurdly defective household projections by the Department for Communities and Local Government. For as long as net migration continues at about a quarter of a million per year, Britain will be trapped in a treadmill of housebuilding without limit. (David Coleman, emeritus professor of demography, University of Oxford)

My comment: Britain is a small island and it has beautiful countryside that we all want preserved. At the same time the native population is barely increasing. As it heads off over the 60 million figure the extra people are mostly immigrants. We need them (provided we can integrate them) because they work hard and offer skills we are no longer prepared for now that technical education is so poor and apprenticeships few in number.

But the housing issue is a big problem, and it is right to bring it up. It seems unfair to ask the taxpayer to pay for more expensive housing, but where else will the money come from? I think Epicurus, given similar circumstances, would have advocating cutting military expenditure and putting resources into housing, rather than increase taxes. But then, like now, nobody ever asked him.

The tyranny of the cellphone

If it were not for my wife’s comfort with her cellphone I might as well be isolated on a tropical island.

Everyone in the UK expects you to have a cellphone – the whole health system. the police, the local Council, the Post Office, the Bank, the government, the emergency services. Just everyone. I am possibly the last person on the planet who possesses no cellphone and cannot send text messages, not because I am cheap but because I am old and my cognition is not what it was when, in the army, I planned an imagined invasion of Crete by allied armies (truly! I was told at the end I had been captured by German paratroopers!).
Anyway, I wander from the point.

The point is that to me I prefer (1) a telephone call or (2) an old fashioned email. What I find irritating is the assumption that you have a cellphone and can text. When you think how many people can barely pay their electricity bills and earn peanuts this assumption is, shall we say politely “out of touch”.

Now…….which uninhabited, peaceful Pacific island would suit best….?

A surge of Ivermectin overdose calls

Health experts and medical groups are pushing to stamp out the growing use of ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug, to treat COVID-19, amid warnings that it can cause harmful side effects and that there’s little evidence it helps.

Poison control centers are seeing a dramatic surge in calls from people who are self-medicating with ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug for animals that some falsely claim treats COVID-19.

According to the National Poison Data System (NPDS), which collects information from the nation’s 55 poison control centers, there was a 245% jump in reported exposure cases from July to August — from 133 to 459.

Meanwhile, emergency rooms across the country are treating more patients who have taken the drug, after being persuaded by false and misleading information spread on the internet by talk show hosts and political leaders. Most patients are overdosing on a version of the drug that is formulated to treat parasites in cows and horses.

The troubling trend has been on the rise since the start of 2021 — despite warnings from state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against taking ivermectin. The NPDS says 1,143 ivermectin exposure cases were reported between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31. That marks an increase of 163% over the same period last year.

Ivermectin treats infections caused by some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions such as rosacea. When taken in appropriate, prescribed doses, it can be highly effective and is included in the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.

But after some clinical trials at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration says the “currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19.”

In Kansas, the Department of Health and Environment is urging residents to disregard false information about ivermectin’s effectiveness against Covid.
“Kansans should avoid taking medications that are intended for animals and should only take ivermectin as prescribed by their physician,” Lee Norman, secretary of the department, said earlier this week.

In Mississippi, which has one of the lowest rates of vaccination against the coronavirus, at least 70% of recent calls to the state poison control center were related to people who ingested ivermectin, which meant for cattle and horses.

Minnesota’s Poison Control System is dealing with the same problem. According to the department, only one ivermectin exposure case was reported in July, but in August, the figure jumped to nine. Kentucky has seen similar increases. Thirteen misuse calls have been reported this year, Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Poison Control Center, told the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“Of the calls, 75% were from people who bought ivermectin from a feed store or farm supply store and treated themselves with the animal product,” Webb said. The other 25% were people who had a prescription, she added.”You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” the FDA said in a renewed warning late last month.

Those people in Mississippi with a prescription from a health care provider should only fill it “through a legitimate source such as a pharmacy, and take it exactly as prescribed,” the agency instructs. It also cautioned that large doses of the drug are “dangerous and can cause serious harm” and said that doses of ivermectin produced for animals could contain ingredients harmful to humans. (Denis Farrell/AP)

My comment. Actually, is there any need for comment? This tells the world all it needs to know about the backwoods of America. Fortunately, there are still plenty of intelligent and educated people elsewhere.

Smile!

A new Priest at his first mass was so nervous he could hardly speak. After mass he asked the Monsignor how he had done.
The Monsignor replied, “When I am worried about getting nervous on the pulpit, I put a glass of vodka next to the water glass. If I start to get nervous, I take a sip.”
So next Sunday he took the Monsignor’s advice. At the beginning of the sermon, he got nervous and took a drink. He proceeded to talk up a storm.
Upon his return to his office after the mass, he found the following note on the door:
1) Sip the vodka, don’t gulp.
2) There are 10 commandments, not 12.
3) There are 12 disciples, not 10.
4) Jesus was consecrated, not constipated.
5) Jacob wagered his donkey, he did not bet his ass.
6) We do not refer to Jesus Christ as the late J.C…
7) The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not referred to as Daddy, Junior and the Spook.
8) David slew Goliath; he did not kick the shit out of him…
9) When David was hit by a rock and was knocked off his donkey, don’t say he was stoned off his ass.
10) We do not refer to the cross as the ‘Big T.’
11) When Jesus broke the bread at the last supper he said, “Take this and eat it for this is my body.” He did not say, “Eat me.”
12) The Virgin Mary is not called ‘Mary with the Cherry’.
13) The recommended grace before a meal is not: Rub-A-Dub-Dub thanks for the grub, Yeah God.
14) Next Sunday there will be a taffy pulling contest at St. Peter’s not a peter pulling contest at St. Taffy’s. (Sent by Beth Barnes)

This generational conflict is bogus

A fake generational war over the climate crisis has distorted public thinking and political strategy, when in fact older generations are just as worried about the issue as younger people, according to research.

In fact, the study found older people were actually more likely than the young to feel that acting in environmentally conscious ways would make a difference, with twice as many baby boomers as members of generation Z having boycotted a company in the last 12 months for environmental reasons. The fake conflict between generations over the climate crisis is “dangerous and destructive”, the lead researcher, Prof Bobby Duffy, said.

My commment: Amen to that! As an older person I am quite as concerned as anyone else. The weather news, especially from the US, is really scary. You have to be deaf and blind not to be aware of the rising temperatures, the forest fires, the hurricanes, and the melting ice at the poles. If you are British maybe one of the greatest threat is disruption of the Gulf Stream, which could make the British Isles a very cold place to live in, as I understand it. The irony is that many Brits worry about foreign migrants, but it is quite possible the they will join the migrations as well.(Am I being alarmist?).

Afghanistan

Afghanistan is hit by brain drain as the ‘best and brightest’flee Taliban rule. (Los Angeles Times)

The re-emergence of Taliban rule has triggered the departure of thousands of highly skilled Afghans from what is already one of the world’s most under-developed nations.

As the insurgents continue to tighten their grip, people with “a wealth of skills and experience” are “joining a brain drain of such grave proportions that even the Taliban, faced with running one of the world’s poorest countries, has taken notice with dismay”, the Los Angeles Times commented.

My comment: The Taliban is an illustration of the downside of using a religion as a blueprint for modern governance. If you choose to employ medieval religious ideology as a framework for “modern” government, what do you expect? Now were they introducing the precepts of Epicureanism they might be surprised at the positive reaction of the people. Religion should be a personal matter.